While the 2010 draft choices are a long way from becoming the next Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler — let alone the next Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg — the highly-skilled forwards continue to put together two of the best seasons of any prospects in the Detroit Red Wings’ system.
On our latest list, topped again by defenseman Brendan Smith, Jarnkrok has moved up two spots to No. 5, while Pulkkinen jumped five to No. 6.
Jarnkrok, the Swedish Elite League’s top-scoring junior-aged player with 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in 41 games with Brynas, has all the offensive tools you could ask for and taken a huge step forward this season.
Pulkkinen, who plays for Jokerit Helsinki, is ninth in Finnish SM-Liiga scoring, with an age-defying 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points in 44 games. He’s a gifted scorer with an itchy trigger finger who has bounced back in a big way after injuries caused his draft stock to plummet from the first to fourth round.
If that’s not enough, both players had tremendous showings at the IIHF world junior championship in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Jarnkrok had five points in six games and Pulkkinen kicked in nine points in six games.
The numbers of both players are at a level the Red Wings haven’t seen out of any 19-year-old prospect playing in Europe since Hudler — and his gaudy numbers were produced in the weaker Czech ExtraLiga.
Smith, an offensive-minded 6-foot-2, 190-pounder who was selected for the American Hockey League all-star game as a rookie, got the nod at No. 1 because of his high upside at the NHL’s most sought after position.
Forwards Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Jan Mursak held steady in spots two through four to round out the top five. While there isn’t much separating this emerging trio, the higher offensive upside of Tatar and Nyquist got the nod over Mursak’s speed and superior NHL readiness.
While Jarnkrok and Pulkkinen are on the rise, two former first-round picks are falling. Goalie Thomas McCollum, drafted 30th overall in 2008, dropped four spots to No. 9 and forward Riley Sheahan, 21st overall in 2010, dropped one to No. 7. While we’re not ready to give up on either player — not by a long shot — more is expected of first-round picks and neither is delivering.
McCollum is struggling to become a reliable AHL starter with the Grand Rapids Griffins and has been outplayed by the much less heralded Jordan Pearce. But goalies historically need more time to develop, and the 21-year-old has two more years exempt from waivers — so time is still on his side.
The Red Wings think of Sheahan as a big scoring forward comparable to a young Johan Franzen. While Franzen wasn’t scoring much either when he was drafted at age 24, Sheahan’s lack of college production — eight goals in 63 games at Notre Dame — has put his offensive upside under the microscope.
Emmerton, who made his NHL debut this season and is out of waiver options in 2011-12, has more offensive upside but still needs to show he’s ready for full-time big-league duty. Andersson, a favorite of Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock, is more of a stopper who has slowly adjusted to the AHL.
Following is the complete mid-season ranking.
01. Brendan Smith (–). Top-pairing upside if it all comes together.
02. Tomas Tatar (–). Enthusiasm and hockey passion exceed his ample skill.
03. Gustav Nyquist (–). Production dropped, but still a high-scoring dynamo.
04. Jan Mursak (–). Obviously an NHLer, he’ll be a regular in 2011-12.
05. Calle Jarnkrok (+2). Perhaps the best offensive upside of anybody in system.
06. Teemu Pulkkinen (+5). Tough to argue with his production at young age.
07. Riley Sheahan (-1). Lack of production becoming big concern.
08. Cory Emmerton (–). Ready or not? The jury’s still out.
09. Thomas McCollum (-4). Has all the tools, but can’t put it together.
10. Joakim Andersson (-1). The next Sammy Pahlsson? Not just yet.
11. Mitchell Callahan (+1). Breakthrough season and solid WJC showing.
12. Landon Ferraro (+1). Finally came around before potential season-ending injury.
13. Brian Lashoff (-2). Solid defender can’t land regular work in the AHL.
14. Petr Mrazek (+6). Highest riser looks sensational in OHL starting gig.
15. Adam Almqvist (+1). Logs 20-plus minutes a night and is rounding out game.
16. Andrej Nestrasil (-2). Lots of talent, but it’s crunch time for a contract now.
17. Max Nicastro (–). Learning to play with an edge, but more production expected.
18. Logan Pyett (-2). Out of waiver options, could be on the wire in 2011-12.
19. Nick Jensen (-1). Offensive-minded blueliner has slowed after hot start.
20. Brent Raedeke (-1). Darren Helm-type is having a solid AHL rookie season.
21. Louis-Marc Aubry (–). The 6-foot-4 two-way center can’t shake injury bug.
22. Trevor Parkes (+1). Gritty Patrick Eaves-type having tremendous season.
23. Gleason Fournier (-1). All-world skater but rest of game needs to catch up.
24. Jordan Pearce (NR). Seizing his opportunity with AHL playing time.
25. Willie Coetzee (-1). Skilled forward adjusting gradually to pro game.